Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Man Booker Prize, now with 'Muricans

Yesterday, the short list of six finalists was announced for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction. It's an annual literary prize for the best English-language novel published in the U.K. To be eligible for the prize, an author has to be a citizen of the U.K., any of the Commonwealth of Nations, the Republic of Ireland, or Zimbabwe.

Until now.

This year, the prize has been opened to any novel written in English, so long as the book is published in the U.K.  Note, the novel does not need to be published exclusively in the U.K.. It merely must be published by one of the U.K. publishing houses, many of which are imprints owned by publishing companies from outside the U.K.

And so here come the 'Muricans, to a bit of gnashing of teeth. Some folks are concerned that American authors will swamp the competition, squeezing out many participants from smaller nations. Others lament that the chance for exposure for non-American authors will be diminished. A few worry that one of the Man Booker's best attributes -- that it was a manageable list of potential nominees, with each of the judges able to read the entire list of potential winners -- will be lost due to a significant increase in eligible books.

Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2014 shortlist
The 2014 shortlist for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction. (Image courtesy of the Man Booker Prize.)
From a long list of 13 books, with four American authors, comes yesterday's short list of six. Of those six on the short list, two are Americans:

To Rise Again At a Decent Hour                      Joshua Ferris                      American
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves        Karen Joy Fowler               American
J                                                                       Howard Jacobson               British
The Lives of Others                                         Neel Mukherjee                   British
How to Be Both                                                Ali Smith                             British
The Narrow Road to the Deep North               Richard Flanagan               Australian

Obviously, Americans garnering ⅓ of the year's nominations is substantial. But not, presumably, too alarming. The British press ruminates that this is a cautious first step into new era. A good showing by the Americans, but they have not been allowed to swamp the competition.

After all, given the relative number of authors and their worldwide citizenship, what is most striking is that half of the nominations are British. Is it surprising that (mostly) British judges think Brits deserve a wildly outsized percentage of nominations? You decide.

I haven't read any of the novels. In years past, Kate and I have tended to read -- or at least buy and save on a bookshelf for future reading -- Man Booker winners and nominees. We already own one of the shortlisted books, and likely will accumulate others soon.

To be honest, I'm not sure how I feel about the Man Booker being opened to all English-language writers. I liked that it excluded Americans, who have their own Pulitzer to covet. On the other hand, it didn't make much logical sense for the Man Booker to allow all English writers except Americans (and perhaps a few other English-language writers lurking in non-Commonwealth countries).

Incidentally, the early scuttle is that The Lives of Others is the frontrunner. I find it interesting that Mukherjee, who was born and raised in India, is counted as "British." Perhaps because he attended university in the U.K.? Perhaps he lives in the U.K. now? Is he now a U.K. citizen? I dunno.

The winner will be announced on October 14. I am quite sure that winner will not be an American.

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